Mayor Marty Walsh announced Thursday that he’s taking multiple steps to reform the Boston Police Department, including filing an ordinance to create a new Office of Police Accountability and Transparency and signing executive orders to create a new Civilian Review Board and Internal Affairs Oversight Panel.
Those steps were not unexpected. As Walsh noted in a press conference, he’s acting on recommendations made by the Boston Police Reform Task Force, which the mayor created amid a massive nationwide push for police reform earlier this year. They are, however, a sign that the mayor — who may seek re-election next year — intends to act on his commitments in this area.
“Our goal is to sustain the urgency of the moment,” Walsh said. “To achieve deep and meaningful change here in Boston. To create a national model for breaking down systemic racism collaboratively, with the community, in ways that improve public safety for all.”
Walsh announced the formation of the task force in June, and revamped its structure in July. It issued its final recommendations in October, after holding five separate listening sessions around the city.
The new entities announced by Walsh would work as part of a cohesive whole, with the Office of Police Accountability and Transparency funneling cases to the Civilian Review Board and Internal Affairs Oversight Panel and providing research and administrative support as they do their work.
The task force proposed that the Internal Affairs Oversight Panel consist of professionals charged with reviewing the BPD’s internal-affairs investigations; that the Civilian Review Board consist of residents charged with reviewing allegations against the police and advising the mayor and BPD on policy; and that subpoena power be given to a three-person commission consisting of the executive director of OPAT and the chairs of the oversight panel and review board.
The Civilian Review Board announced by Walsh Thursday will have nine members, nominated both by the mayor’s office and the Boston City Council. It was not immediately clear how the nomination process would work.
The Internal Affairs Oversight Panel announced by Walsh will replace the existing Community Ombudsman Oversight Panel, or CO-OP, an entity that critics have described as relatively toothless. While the CO-OP could review no more than 20 percent of completed internal-affairs cases, the IAOP will be able to review all completed cases, as well as the BPD’s internal-affairs policies and procedures.
Tanisha Sullivan, the president of the NAACP Boston Branch and a task force member, attended the conference and praised Walsh’s announcement.
“I want to thank Mayor Walsh for not only receiving and adopting these recommendations, but for respecting the integrity of the recommendations, with an understanding that they were informed by Boston residents—as well as the best structures and practices that have implemented across the country,” Sullivan said.
But Sullivan also added a caveat, saying the task force’s vision still must be fully realized for the reform push to be deemed a success..
“The recommendations alone are not enough,” Sullivan said. “They are simply words on paper, unless and until they are implemented.”
Walsh also delivered grim news about COVID in Boston, saying the city’s new case count reached 355 Thursday — the highest total since early June — and that while the citywide positivity rate remains 7.2 percent, it’s climbed past 16 percent in East Boston.
“We are at another critical point,” Walsh said, urging Boston residents to do everything possible to curtail the virus’s continued spread.
Walsh also condemned proposed cutbacks at the MBTA, which is struggling from a revenue shortfall as the pandemic rages on, saying they’d be economically devastating and especially ill-advised given COVID.
“These cuts undermine our COVID responses — to be able to have physical distancing on trains and buses,” Walsh said. “It hurts the essential and frontline worker[s], who have the fewest transportation options.”
In a Q-and-A session following his prepared remarks, Walsh said he hasn’t been contacted by Joe Biden’s transition team about a possible role in the president-elect’s cabinet — and that while he’s honored to have his name mentioned, his attention is squarely focused on governing Boston.
“I love my job as mayor,” Walsh said. “And I’m looking forward to, the next several years, working with an administration in Washington that believes in science, that believes in immigration rights, that believes in infrastructure, that believes in housing, that believes in climate change,” Walsh said. “That’s going to be a real big difference.”
Reporter Saraya Wintersmith contributed to this report.